It’s taken longer than you expected, but you’re finally there.
You’ve got more muscle and less fat than ever before.
You’ve built a level of conditioning that would leave the Bionic Man feeling in need of an upgrade.
But there’s a problem.
You feel tired. Burned out.
The thought of training 5-6 days a week for the rest of your life just to maintain your current shape is about as appealing as binge-watching an entire series of the Dr Oz Show.
If any of this sounds familiar, I have some good news.
It’s a whole lot easier to maintain a given level of conditioning than it is to build it in the first place.
In fact, you may be surprised at just how little training is required to maintain most of your gains in strength, size and aerobic power.
As an example, a study from Canada shows that you can get by training just once a week without losing any strength .
Researchers placed subjects on a resistance-training program for 10 weeks. They were then assigned to one of two groups for a further six weeks. Group one lifted weights just once per week. Group two did so twice a week.
Subjects who trained only once per week were able to maintain strength in four of the six exercises they were tested on. Their performance in the leg press and leg curl actually improved.
Even when the maintenance period is stretched out for eight months, lifting weights just once a week is enough to maintain gains in muscle mass.
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham got a group of subjects to lift weights three times a week for four months . Each workout involved three sets of three exercises (knee extension, leg press and squats) for 8-12 reps.
The subjects were then assigned to one of three different groups for the next eight months.
One group stopped exercising altogether. Group two cut back from training three times a week to training once a week. The third group reduced both the number of weekly training sessions and the number of sets they did in each workout, going from three sets per exercise to just one.
Unsurprisingly, subjects who quit exercise completely lost most of muscle they’d built.
But those who continued to train once a week, even those who cut back on the number of sets they did in each workout, were able to maintain most of their muscle mass. In addition, both maintenance programs increased strength by 7–8%.
The same principle holds true when it comes to maintaining aerobic power.
Research published back in the 1980’s tracked a group of 12 subjects who took part in a 10-week exercise program .
The program involved cycling and running for 40 minutes, six days each week. This was enough to increase aerobic power by an average of 20-25%. Subjects were then placed into one of two groups, and continued to exercise for a further 15 weeks.
Group one trained at the same intensity and duration on four days of the week. The second group did the same thing, but trained only twice a week.
The researchers found that aerobic power remained the same in both groups. That’s despite the fact that group two was training only twice each week, while group one was training four times per week.
If I suddenly fell out of love with training and decided to perform as little of it as humanly possible, here’s what I’d do.
My first port of call would be the 2-day version of Muscle Evo, which involves lifting weights just twice a week.
As I explained in How to Build Muscle and Get Strong Training Just Twice a Week, there’s research out there showing very similar gains in size and strength whether you train a muscle group twice or three times a week.
To sum it all up, you can maintain any given component of fitness, be it muscular size, strength or aerobic power, with a lot less work than it took to develop it in the first place.
Training INTENSITY (how hard you work), rather than frequency (how often you train) or duration (how long you train for) is the “key” to maintaining your conditioning.
In other words, if you’ve been lifting weights that limit you to somewhere between 5 and 8 repetitions, then make sure to keep the weight at or around that level.
Likewise, if you’ve been used to training at 80-85% of your maximum heart rate, then make sure to maintain that level of intensity if you cut back on the frequency and duration of your workouts for any length of time.
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
If you're fed up spending hours in the gym with nothing to show for it, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a "cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to go about building muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.
ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is a former "trainer to the trainers" and fitness writer based in Northamptonshire, England. He holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.
1. Hickson, R.C., & Rosenkoetter, M.A. (1981). Reduced training frequencies and maintenance of increased aerobic power. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 13, 13-16
2. Deschenes, M.R., Giles, J.A., McCoy, R.W., Volek, J.S., Gomez, A.L., & Kraemer, W.J. (2002). Neural factors account for strength decrements observed after short-term muscle unloading. American Journal of Physiology, 282, R578-583
3. Bell, G.J., Syrotuik, D.G., Attwood, K., & Quinney, H.A. (1993). Maintenance of strength gains while performing endurance training in oarswomen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 18, 104-115
4. McRae G, Payne A, Zelt JG, Scribbans TD, Jung ME, Little JP, Gurd BJ. (2012). Extremely low volume, whole-body aerobic-resistance training improves aerobic fitness and muscular endurance in females. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 37, 1124-1131
5. Bickel CS, Cross JM, Bamman MM. (2011). Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43, 1177-1187